There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

“Turtles all the way down” by John Green

“This book is certainly not about the turtles,” is something that the writer would love to let anyone who desires to pick this book up know. Turtles all the way Down is yet another young adult fiction authored by John Green in 2017 after his gargantuan bestseller “The Fault In our Stars” John Michael Green is an American author and philanthropist, born on August 24, 1977, in Indianapolis, Indiana. However, he was brought up in Orlando, Florida. He had done his schooling at a boarding school in Alabama and later attended Kenyon College and graduated with a double major in English and religious studies in 2000. By far he has authored 8 books, all being young adult fiction with “The Fault in our Stars”, being a highly prominent title. Some of his titles including Turtles All The Way Down and The Fault in Our Stars have been adapted into movies as well.

About the Novel

Just like Green, the protagonist of the novel Aza Holmes, a 16-year-old American high school student hailed from and settled in Indianapolis. Aza suffers from both obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, with these disorders debilitating her in effectively carrying out her daily activities. Her OCD is manifested in her behavioural tendencies to tear open any possible wounds intrusively in her body due to her fear of bacterial invasion, especially C-diff. She finds herself engaging in morbid and repetitive thoughts about how this bacterial invasion would mess up her physiology and would eventually kill her. To deal with these obsessive thoughts, she cuts open a callus in her finger, cleans it with sanitiser and closes it completely with a band-aid, many times a day.

The plot receives a kick start when during one lunch break, Aza and her close friends Daisy Ramirez and Mychal Turner discover the disappearance of a local billionaire Russell Davis Pickett. He had fled the place to avoid being arrested for fraud and bribery regarding a sewer project. Daisy, now wants Aza to contact Sr. Pickett’s son, Davis, whom the latter knew when she was young, to get more information about the disappearance of his father. This information, Daisy believed, would help them to solve this mystery and earn the $100,000 that was promised for the solvers. Aza later complies with Daisy’s needs and they visit Davis and receive some important details about the missing. Davis and Aza tend to form a connection after this meeting which she tends to cherish as one of the most pivotal aspects of her life and their journey continues to a rather neutral conclusion.

This fictional read’s take on obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety is what makes it a must-read. Green, himself being a diagnosed patient of OCD, has produced an almost perfect depiction of how debilitating extreme levels of OCD can be, especially in daily life, through the protagonist. The readers would often find themselves inside Aza’s head swirling along with her unsteady cognition. Aza finds herself in a pool of thoughts every time she comes close to Davis and kisses him. She fears and visualizes the exchange of bacteria and germs even at such subtle moments of her life. In multiple instances in the book, she is also found to spiral into panic attacks following which she is found to consume gulps of hand sanitisers, in the sudden fear of C-diff bacteria. She also finds it quite hard to maintain a stable relationship with her friend Daisy and spins into one of her panic attack episodes after she finds Daisy had frowned upon her behaviour and her anxiety through a fan fiction writeup she authored. All these instances not only depict how these disorders can weaken an individual but also often be a threat to a healthy life.

About the Protagonist

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by recurrent intrusive thoughts that prompt the performance of neutralizing rituals or compulsions. It is, nowadays a common mental health disorder. Statistics show that 1 in every 100 adults and 1 in every 200 children in the US suffer from the symptoms of OCD. China is found to be the country with the highest rate of people suffering from OCD. OCD is a relatively common mental health condition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), OCD affects approximately 1% of the global population. In the United States, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 1.2% of adults have OCD. Green, in an interview regarding his work with “The Guardian” asserted, that through the book he had drawn inspiration from his very own childhood and adolescence which he found to be quite disabling due to the presence of OCD and anxiety.

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He further detailed that the protagonist is being forced to think about thoughts that she sovereignly would never want to and she is devoid of the power to choose her thoughts. He tries to elucidate the intricacies of these disorders to the readers and kindles a question within them as to what the implications would be as a sovereign individual at least with an illusion of free will when one tries to make way through the day with an onslaught of fear about being an encase of some families of bacteria. The writer further tries to remind us that it is not just Aza’s thoughts and consequential behaviours that debilitate her, but also it is the feeling that these thoughts are inexhaustive and the undermined sense of self that follows.

Summing up

In a world that has rarely shown enthusiasm in comprehending how mental illnesses work in an individual, this John Green novel plays a pivotal role in sending the message to those sufferers that they deserve and are capable enough of building a normal life as they may have always dreamt to. The book has succeeded in not romanticizing these illnesses depriving it of its centrality as found in common pop and movie cultures these days. No matter how big of an “invasive weed”, OCD be, as Green terms it, the book shows people that it is necessarily not something one should try, defeat and outgrow. Aza wants the “demon” in her to leave and the novel teaches the readers that it is okay to not find a quick fix. It also makes sure that Aza does not leave her past behind and hence teaches people that one can harmoniously lead a fulfilling life with the disorder without experiencing a miraculous remedy.

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